Prologue

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Twenty-nine years ago...

A light drizzle hit the side of the old, stone building, causing small splashes to burst off its surface. Autumn had come just recently, but the cold moved in quickly this year. A rather tall man in an overcoat, taking shelter in the building's shadow, hunched closer to the doorway. He didn't mind being wet, but it allowed the coldness to sink through his jacket. He never liked being cold. Not that he had to worry about it much. It was a small effort to shrug off the unwanted sensation. It was as natural as breathing to him.

Terence Bryce looked at the paper he carried, trying to keep it from the rain, and double-checked the address again. He glanced down the street to assure himself he was alone. Fortunately, this was a remote location, and his presence here would likely go unnoticed this late in the night.

"You better had gotten this right, Laramie," he said to himself.

He checked the handle, finding it locked, and pressed against the doorway. With a small grunt, he pressed harder and was rewarded by the sound of steel rending on the other side. The door buckled and swung open. It clanged hard against the wall, but Terry paid it no heed, rushing through the portal and ducking inside the building. He braced himself, predicting the pelt of gunfire. All that met him was silence.

He looked around to find himself in a small, empty room and frowned. The man he tracked was known to possess expansive resources and at least a little intelligence about him. Surely, he knew Terry was coming for him. Terry removed his coat and crossed the room, easing a door open to find the adjoining hallway also empty, though the lights were lit.

"Well, somebody's home. You better had gotten this right, Laramie," he repeated.

He walked down the hall, his hard-soled shoes striking the floor solidly with each step but making not a sound. It was a trick of magic Terry perfected long ago, and he used it well. When he rounded the corner, he caught the first sign he was in the correct place. Two men stood guard over a monitoring screen and spoke in hushed tones, their backs to him.

Terry closed the distance in a dash, impossibly fast, impossibly silent. His hand struck the first guard with powerful force and sent a torrent of invisible energy into him. The guard crumpled to the floor as Terry's attack coursed through him, overwhelming his senses and sending him to dark sleep.

The second guard was more prepared, and reacted with inhuman reflexes – an acolyte.

The acolyte went for his pistol. Terry wasn't about to let him play that game. He collided into him and bore him down using his superior strength and another blast of archonic energy. The acolyte resisted him for a moment but didn't last long. Terry had been in the game a long time and developed a reputation for the power which came naturally to him. Unlike an acolyte, who must physically draw a limited reserve of spiritual energy – mana – from a fallen archon in the world, Terry was bonded to an archon in the Astral Plane and could draw upon its mana at will. His might was a testament to the decades spent strengthening and honing that bond.

The young acolyte didn't stand a chance and fell to the ground, unconscious beside his fallen comrade. Terry looked around, expecting reinforcements to press down on him, but none came. He frowned again.

"What are you about, Mr. Răducan?" He inspected the monitors on the desk. Several men lay on the floor in various rooms, and Terry spotted signs of a struggle on one screen. So that's why no one was left here to stop me. Now, how do I get there? he wondered.

It didn't take him long to close in on the fight. As he walked down the next hall, a sounds of a scuffle emanated from behind the near wall. It wouldn't stop him. He summoned his energies again to bust through, sending mortar and stone flying. He should have guessed what he found when the dust cleared.

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